Twelve Joke

The informant is a caucasian male. His father was born in Denmark, but was raised in America. He was raised in Virginia, but attended high school in Pasadena, CA. The informant later lived in Hawaii for 8 years, Northern California for 7 years, and now resides in Southern California again. He is a professor, teaching molecular biology to pharmacy students. He was brought up episcopalian but is no agnostic. The informant is divorced with one child.

The informant heard this joke via the radio show Prairie Home Companion. Every year this show collects the best jokes they have heard from around the country and broadcasts them in a special episode. The informant specifically remembered this joke because of its unusual portrayal of curiosity. The informant is a scientists and hence has been taught that curiosity is a virtue. This darker view appealed to him as a fresh view on the idea of curiosity. The informant was so drawn to this joke that he specifically remembered it and will now retell it whenever asked to supply a joke.

Text: There were two people walking through town in a neighborhood they had never visited before. And they were just chatting and taking a friendly stroll, not knowing the neighborhood. And they come walking by this big old hulking building. Sort of, just, almost like a plaster fortress. It’s got a big bunch of windows, but they’re pretty small and they’re all boarded up, with iron gratings around the outside. They give it a quizzical look as they walk by. Then they hear this very faint, sort of noise coming from the building. It’s like chanting going on inside: “twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve.” They get really curious: twelve, what’s going on? So they look through, they’re just passing the front gate and they look through the front gate and there’s like the front door. It, um, is boarded up, but it has one of these holes that you can look through and peer inside. And they kind of look at each other: do we go in there and try to see whats going on inside, see what the chanting’s all about. Maybe its some kind of mystical ritual. Maybe they’re like free masons or a religious sect whose boarded themselves up in this old building. So, one says to the other, “let’s go look, let’s take a look.” So they open the gate very stealthily and they creep up inside. All the time hearing: “ twelve.” It’s growing a little louder: “twelve, twelve.” Because they’re getting closer and they can hear now: “twelve, twelve.” And one of them very carefully puts his head down so they can’t be seen. And he slowly lifts up and looks through the keyhole. And feels a jarring pain as a stick goes right into his eye. And he hears: “thirteen, thirteen, thirteen.

Analysis: The humor in this joke arrises by tapping into the dark side of the human psyche. It is schadenfreude, gaining pleasure, or in this case humor, from the pain, or imagined pain, of others. The portrayal of curiosity in a non-positive scientific light probably did contribute to the informant’s attraction to the joke, but it is very likely that the human propensity to schadenfreude played a significant part in his remembering the joke.